This sign-on opportunity has a very short turn-around. It has to do with public disclosure provisions of HR 5533, which would establish a new Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority within the Department of Health and Human Services. Please let Alan Pearson know ASAP (this morning) if you want to sign on. apearson@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx _____ From: Nick Schwellenbach [mailto:nick@xxxxxxxx] To: FOI-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Sent: Tue, 26 Sep 2006 09:52:25 -0400 Subject: FW: BARDA sign on letter Sorry for any cross-posts. This is urgent and any sign-ons should be emailed to Alan Pearson at the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation by this afternoon. Send it to apearson@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Best, Nick Schwellenbach, Project On Government Oversight Patrice McDermott, OpenTheGovernment.org Alan Pearson, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Pete Weitzel, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government All, From what we have heard today, the BARDA legislation may be fast-tracked for approval in both the House and Senate this week. It now appears that the differences between the bills in each house may have already been resolved so that a conference will not be necessary. Importantly, both bills contain an identical (b)(3) exemption that has been the subject of e-mail traffic to this group. We found out late today that the House bill may come up for a vote tomorrow. A small group of us (myself, Pete, Patrice, Nick) have worked up a sign-on letter. We would like to get as many groups to sign on to this as possible by mid-day tomorrow, so that we can deliver it to several potential allies in the House, as well as to the sponsors of the legislation. The letter is pasted below. If you have any questions, please contact me by e-mail. I will be unavailable before about noon, but will respond to any questions or concerns immediately upon arrival in the office. Best regards, Alan Pearson Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Text of letter: We write to urge modification of the public disclosure provisions of HR 5533, which would establish a new Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority within the Department of Health and Human Services. Improved coordination and oversight of research and development of new medicines and vaccines against biological weapons and other disease agents is critical to our national security but we believe this measure will wrap that effort in unnecessary and counter-productive secrecy. Language in the âBiodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2006â mandates that the Secretary of Health and Human Services withhold technical and scientific information that would âreveal vulnerabilities of existing medical or public health defensesâ against biological threats. It establishes a five-year blackout on reviewing withholding decisions. While well-intentioned, this language is vague and all but certain to result in inappropriate withholding of information that needs to be shared for reasons related to both public accountability and national security. All of the research and development activities that BARDA would pursue are directed at reducing our nationâs vulnerabilities. What then are the limits on information that must be withheld? The legislation provides no guidance on this question, and allows no discretion. In the fast-moving area of biomedical research, a five-year blackout is unwise and likely to be counter-productive in many instances. The legislation might also prevent the results of important fundamental research from being shared with other scientists who need to know. For instance, basic research on new broad-spectrum anti-microbials is essential in the face of naturally-occurring but rapidly increasing antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. Yet, such research could reveal vulnerabilities and thus could fall within the broad language of the law. Withholding such information runs counter to long-standing U.S. policy that fundamental research be open, that the benefits of such openness outweigh the risks. Indeed, the U.S. leads the world in biomedical research. Our experience has shown that robust and effective vaccine and drug development can only take place in a climate of timely and free exchange of materials and information. In contrast, secrecy in bioweapons related research will not only harm our biodefense vaccine and drug development efforts, but will set a poor example that other nations may follow to our chagrin. Moreover, given the widespread criticism that the Department and Project BioShield have already received for lack of results and accountability, we believe that Congress should strive to make the BARDA as transparent as possible while ensuring necessary national security. Toward that end, we urge that the language of HR 5533 be modified to provide more specific guidance on the information covered, to give the secretary discretion to release information that he believes could be shared publicly, and to shorten the review period to two years. We also believe the provision in this bill excluding all meetings from the Federal Advisory Committee Act is inappropriate.